(CNN) — Surrogate mothers can help bring joy to couples who otherwise cannot have children on their own, but the legal agreements between surrogates and biological parents can force both sides to make difficult, painful choices.
CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen introduces us to one surrogate faced with such a decision and who made a bold move when she was asked to abort the fetus she was carrying.
Crystal Kelley was thrilled when a couple hired her to be their surrogate and carry their baby.
The husband and wife were ecstatic, too. Finally, they’d have the child they’d been longing for.
“She said pray for a little girl. I want a little girl.”
[Reporter: And she got a little girl.]
“She got a little girl.”
[Was it the little girl she wanted?]
“No, it wasn’t.”
Ultrasounds halfway through Kelley’s pregnancy showed the baby girl growing inside her had severe heart defects, a brain abnormality, and other medical problems.
Kelley notes, “They said she had a less than 25 percent chance of being able to have a normal life.”
Inside Hartford Hospital, the parents, heartbroken, asked Kelley to have an abortion.
“I refused. I couldn’t do it. I was the one who was feeling her kick and squirm. I knew she had a fighting spirit and I wanted to fight for her,” says Kelley.
But the parents pleaded with Kelley. Genetically, this was their baby. She was just carrying her.
“They said they didn’t want to bring a baby into the world only for that child to suffer. They said I should try to be God-like and have mercy on the child and let her go,” Kelley recalls.
[And what did you say?]
“I told them it wasn’t their decision to play God.”
Strong convictions, but would she betray them for the right price? Kelley was a single mom. Money was tight.
Through the surrogacy agency, the parents said they would pay her $10,000 to have an abortion.
[When you saw that $10,000 figure, did you think maybe I'll do it?]
“In a weak moment, I asked her to tell them that for $15,000, I would consider going forward with the termination.”
The parents refused her request, and Kelley says she quickly regretted asking for the extra money anyways. Deep down, she knew she could never abort under any circumstance.
Once again, they were at a standoff.
CNN reached out to the parents. They didn’t respond to repeated calls or emails, and CNN is not naming them.
Legally, they couldn’t force Kelley to have an abortion, so they proposed: If you have this baby, we’ll give her up and she’ll become a ward of the state.
“I’m not gonna let her become one of those forgotten disabled kids that get lost in the system,” Kelley says.
Kelley made a bold decision: Informing the parents at the last second, she secretly left the state, pregnant with their baby.
“Packed up my van with everything that I could carry, threw my kids in the car and we drove, for two days, to Michigan.”
Under Michigan law, Kelley would be the baby’s mother.
[You were making a decision for a baby that was not genetically yours.]
“I can’t tell you how many people told me that I was bad; that I was wrong; that I should go have an abortion; that I would be damned to hell.”
She spent the final months of her pregnancy in Michigan and gave birth last June, and now, that little girl is eight months old.
To protect her privacy, CNN is not naming her or the family Kelley found to adopt her.
Along with her cleft lip and palate, and a misshapen ear, she has severe brain and heart problems.
She’ll need several risky surgeries to survive, but in many other ways she’s developed like other babies. She smiles, babbles and grabs for toys.
[Some people would say why bring a child into this world who you know is going to have such huge medical problems?]
“And I say that it’s not fair to not give them a chance to overcome them.”
[What if she doesn't walk though? Or what if she doesn't talk?]
“She’s still a happy little girl who’s going to bring joy into the lives of everyone who knows her.”
[When you see her now how does that feel?]
“It gives me a lot of joy and I know that every single thing that I did was worth it.”